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Trains in China

Trains in China

I have to confess that I like going by train in China. I think it is a bit funny because I really hate taking the train in Sweden. Swedish trains or at least those I am on doesn’t seem to be on time. Ever, witht the exception of Arlanda Express that goes between central Stockholm and Arlanda airport. Actually that is the train I am hoping will be late.  A three minute delay gives you a new ticket!

Anyway since I left Moscow I have spent a lot of time on trains on the transmongolian and in China. I have tried the bullet trains that have been going between 249-299 km/h. Imagine that swedes! I have went in second class between Beijing and Xian and between Shenzhen and Guilin. The second class is obvioulsy the one that the chinese choose and first class is more for foreigners. I am taking second class because I don’t think the cost difference is worth it when you are budget traveling. There are also standing places if you are desperate because they cost the same amount as the second class tickets.

The second-class seats on the bullet train. There are two plus three seats in a row.

The night trains are good if you want to save money on hostels or hotels by spending one night on the train. You can choose between a hard or soft sleeper if you want to have a bed. The hard sleepers don’t have walls on all sides while the soft sleeper is a cabin with 4 beds. There is no such thing as female only cabins so be prepared to spend your night with three men in worst case. I did it on my trip to Shenzhen.  I shared the place with an old man and two younger men. I never felt unsafe though. Because there is not lot of room but everything you need for the night in a bag that is easy accessible so you don’t need to go through the whole bag to find your stuff.

A good suggestion is to also bring food with you on the train. I read somewhere that the food on the train is pretty expensive and not so good. What I saw it looked like airplanefood. Most of the chines have with the a cup of noodles or other things to eat during the trip. You can get hot water for free in all the trains.

So how do you buy the train tickets? For foreigners there are a couple options.

  1. Use an internet bookingservice as DIY-travel. On their webpage you can find the available trains between your intended destinations and the price. To the price you also have to add a booking fee of 10 USD and a paypal fee of 4,4%. I have used them for booking my tickets to from Beijing to Xian, Xian to Shanghai, Shanghai to Shenzhen and Shenzhen to Guilin.
  2. There are some others bookingsites as well but check the final price because some of them have prices in USD that are containing an add on plus a booking fee. I looked at some of them and found DIY travel cheapest but do your own research!
  3. Go to the trainstation and buy your own ticket. I did that with my ticket from Guilin to Nanning. It felt ridiculous to use a service with a 10 USD fee to buy a ticket for 124 yuan. Basically the fees would equal the ticket price. I used the dictionary in my Lonely Planet guidebook and wrote on a note that I wanted to buy a windowseat in second class on train x to Nanning on date x as well as the departure time. I believe I got it right. I went to the ticketsales area and picked a booth. Obviously the one that sold tickets for the same day but got pointed to another. Write down what you wish to buy so you can only hand over a note and have some backup options because their english is probably bad if existant.

On the day of departure be on the train station early because the lines to the ticket check can be long and thereafter there are lines to the security check. Look for the train number when you arrive to the station and go to the waitingarea for the train. The trainnumber and the number of the waiting area is probably the only things that you will understand on the display.


Good luck and enjoy the ride!

Shanghai – top 3

Shanghai – top 3

Shanghai is a more modern city then Beijing. It is the city of highrises combined with some history. It is also the city known not to care about the history but rather development.

I like high places and if you also like it I can recommend a visit to Shanghai tower. It is the worlds second highest building with it’s 632 meter and the highest in China. After you have passed the security control you come to an area were you learn about different high buildings in the world. If you wonder were you can find the worlds hightest building the answer is in Dubail. According to my sister the view was not worth the price of seeing all that sand. I can tell you that it is worth to get to the Shanghai tower even though you had to pay 180 yuan for the cheapest ticket. One warning though, bring your passport because without it you cant buy tickets. One american couple got the surprise. By the way, you have to carry your passport with you in China. Up from the observation deck you got an 360 view of Shanghai. What struck me was that Shanghai is not built for cars or as I learned from an acquaintance that no Chinese cities are. Actually cars has gotten more common the last 10 years which explains the bad driving in China. The traffic feels like radiocars in a circus. So get up there! I also managed to get up there the only day with a blue sky in Shanghai.

Shanghai tower is the one on the right side

Although I am on a sabbatical I am still interested in the environmental field. So Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibiton hall were you can learn about city planning in Shanghai. It sounds really boring but they have a really nice photo exhibition of the city on ground floor with stunning photos of the city. They also have an exhibition about Shanghai in the past. You get an overview of the development of the city. Then we are at modern city planning, the Shanghai of today and in the future. There is an interesting part about the environmental plans for the city. The plan is a sustainable city with water that meets drinking standards, a city with even more subway lines. There are a lot of different goals that the city strives for. What strikes me is that there are actual numbers in place and you can follow the progress. If the city accomplice all that I am impressed.

The third one is the Bund. The place by the river were you can take pictures of the Pudong skyline and the old english style buildings on the other side of the river. It is an interesting mix of the modern and old. If you like to take selfies is the place for you.

Pudong skyline
The Bund

I also visited the French concession that is supposed to be a good mix of stores. As I am not in shopping mode and there were a lot of tourist crap I was a bit disappointed. It was a horrible crush.

As I only promised my top 3 places to visit in Shanghai enjoy!

The cost of traveling on a budget

The cost of traveling on a budget

I have been about a month on the road now. The first two and a half week living in 3 or 4 stars hotels in Russia, Mongolia and China. The last week and half I have been living in hostels sharing the room with up to 7 other people. What I have realised during this month is that you can be a tourist without spending a lot of money. As I have a travelbudget I would like to stick to so that I can keep traveling until next summer I have started recording my expenses.

If you look at my expenses a part of it is a bed for the night but the majority is food. I like to eat and to break up the day I have also bought coffee or tea at a cafe everyday. The interesting part is that a coffee cost from about 20 yuan (26 sek) and upwards. If you add cake to your calculation my brake at the café costs me about 50 yuan (68 sek). My lunch normally costs between 30-40 yuan (40-55 sek). The subway costs from 3 yuan up to 8 yuan (I think) so 4 sek to 11 sek. One of the bigger expenses is train tickets between the different cities but as I don’t want to be on constant move there might be one per week in general. I have also chosen sleeper trains on longer distances so you spend the night on the train instead of the day if you take a bullet train.

The difference is in how you travel. I am studying on distance at the university and therefore need to spend some time doing coursework. And as I will be traveling for 9-10 months I don’t want to cram my days with tourist things. Rather I will do one tourist thing per day and some days like yesterday TWO things. I have spent some mornings studying and if there has been bad weather sometimes the whole day. Or to be honest, part of the day studying and part of the day on the internet reading blogs. If I had added my own room to the calculation (in a hostel) I would have needed to double my daily budget from 380 yuan (500 sek) to about 760 yuan or (100 sek). If I would have chosen to live in a hotel I would have needed to triple my budget. This is of course based on that I travel alone. So what is most important more time to travel or comfort?




I believe Xi’an is most known for it’s famous terracottaarmy that was found about 40 years ago approximately 30 km outside of the city center. The find was made by a farmer that was digging for a well. It was found about two kilometers from the grave of the first emperor of China Qin Shi Huangdisom that died 210 b.c. About 2000 soldiers of the 8000 soldiers that has been believed to exist has been digged out. The army is shown in three different digs where one of the them is a huge structure.

What is impressive is the amount of work that went to this funeral. It took 36 years to accomplish the soldiers and the horses that make the terracottaarmy. Think about spending 36 years of planning a funeral. Sounds a bit boring if you ask me. I would rather be living. The soldiers all have different features on their faces, so every head is unique.

Parts of the exhibition
More soldiers

I took an arranged tour to see the army because I felt lazy and felt that I didn’t have the energy to figure out all the parts of going there. There is a bus going from the train station to the site. In the end I don’t think the price difference is that big. If you want to know a little bit more of what you see a tour might be recommended. Our guide was pretty difficult to understand and a little bit to disorganized and to technical with all the dates of emperor this and that for my taste. But on the other hand I like to explore in my own space.

Even though most of the people come to see the terracottaarmy, there is also other things to see in Xi’an. The wall of Xi’an is going through the old parts of Xi’an. You can walk all the way around the wall or even bike. If you are lazy you can take a golf cart around the wall. I took a brief walk on the wall due to rain. If the weather had been nice I would probably have walked the whole wall.

The wall

The muslimmarket is the third must to see thing in Xi’an. It is this huge market with mostly food stalls. There are a alot of different dishes sold but lamb skewers are a must according to most of people. There are stores selling a lot of dried fruits and other mysterious stuff. I like to walk inside and look at all the different things sold. The noise and amount of people is an experience in itself. The sellers are screaming out their wares or at least I think they are doing it because my chinese knowledge extends itself to hi.

The muslim market

As I will be on the road for almost a year I have decided one tourist thing per day is enough so if you expect to hear a lot about different things to do this is not the blog. It is more my reflections of what I see. You will also get my top things to do in the places I visit.

Clean cities

Clean cities

Both Beijing and Xian seems to have an army of people cleaning the streets. You don’t see trash on the streets or at least not as much as could be expected due to amount of people. Instead you see a lot of people sweeping the streets and picking up trash. You don’t see the massive amounts of cigarettbutts that you see at least in Sweden.

Both Beijing and Xian seems to have an army of people cleaning the streets. You don’t see trash on the streets or at least not as much as could be expected due to amount of people. Instead you see a lot of people sweeping the streets and picking up trash. You don’t see the massive amounts of cigarettbutts that you see at least in Sweden.

Both Beijing and Xian seems to have an army of people cleaning the streets. You don’t see trash on the streets or at least not as much as could be expected due to amount of people. Instead you see a lot of people sweeping the streets and picking up trash. You don’t see the massive amounts of cigarettbutts that you see at least in Sweden.

Trashcans for cigarettbutts on the wall of Xian were it was forbidden to smoke.


The heroes that clean the streets clean

You also have a lot more of thrashcans were you can choose between recycable or other waste. Which is pretty confusing if you don’t know what is recycable in China. Shanghai solved my problem by printing on their trashcans what is recycable and what is other waste.

In restaurants, hotels and public places as train stations it is forbidden to smoke, which limits your exposure to smoke. That surprised me a bit and challenged my preconcieved notions of lot of smokers everywhere. Actually the place were I have been exposed most to smoke was the last trip of the transmongolian railway and the chinese sleeper train. The train attendants smoked everywhere it seemed.

You don’t either see dog poop on the streets as you see a lot of in many western countries. Actually you don’t see that much dogs either which is good. Maybe they have been eaten up. My sister believes I have eaten a lot of dog because most of the time it is a guess what I am eating.

Actually the only thing that makes chinese cities feel not clean is the air. The smog that covers the sky. The sky always seems to have a grey cover of smog instead of a blue sky. I have only seen the blue sky one day here in China. It was the day of our arrival to Beijing.

An adventure or a challenge?

An adventure or a challenge?

Being in China is an everyday adventure and also a challenge. It doesn’t allow you to take it easy at least if you don’t speak chinese. The biggest adventure is presented by the chinese lack of english skills or as we are in China my lack of chinese skills. When you order food, you never quite know what you will get. Although I have to say I have never received anything that was not edible in an restaurant. I bought something that I thought would be dried oranges and it ended beeing dried mandarin peal. After a taste I threw it away but that have been the only non edible thing. If you want to ask something don’t expect the person to be able to answer because they dont speak english. Or you might get an answer that is not correct or rather an guesstimate because they never seem to be able to say that they don’t know.

To buy traintickets or rather get your prebooked tickets (because I seriously don’t know if I would be able to communicate where and when I want to go) is also an adventure because you will not find instructions in english or not at least more then a sign pointing to the ticket office. There you have a lot of lines with people waiting. They seem to have different purposes but who knows. I just got in a line and hoped for best. The interesting part is that as a tourist you can get by with doing stupid things like that. And I got my tickets. Which I was pretty happy about yesterday morning when I arrived to my train station of departure. I figured out the waiting hall that the train left from but the train station was massive without any explanations in english.

Another interesting thing is the amount of people and the noise. There are people everywhere and for an introvert like me you start to dream after a while about going to a remote island without people. The metro in rushhour Beijing is full of people but because the trains are passing every 2-5 minutes it doesnt really matter. One time there was little ladies pointing to you how to queue and to get closer to the doors when the train started approaching. Or at least that what I thought she was doing. The metro is an easy and cheap way to transport yourself in Beijing were the distances are much greater than it looks on the map. It cost between 3-8 yuan depending on the lenght of the trip. The noise level seems also to be a lot higher here. People or mostly old men sometimes really scream. People are talking in their phones with the other person on a speakerphone and they always seem to raise their voice in these conversations. The voice level seems to higher here in restaurants and cafées as well.

Everything demands much more energy than touristing in a country were you can be understood and understand the culture at least partly. My tactic will be to schedule maximum one tourist activity per day and to take at least two mental health days without much more activity than studying or reading books.

The last thing that is also an adventure is that I have lived the last 4 nights in a hostel. Me, who has gotten used to living in 3-4 star hotels and having an own room are now sharing a room with a lot of other persons. Back to that later.

A year away

A year away

This blog started with another intention that never really got my interest. Now it is more of a traveljournal with my reflections from my sabbatical year. It will probably also touch minimalism and FIRE-movement, i.e. financial indepence retired early movement, because that also interests me.

My journey started a little more then a year ago when I was tired of my workplace and I realized I needed to make a change. I could go looking for a new workplace or I could do something else. I did both. I didn’t get the position I applied for but I applied for it with the thought that I would go on a sabbatical if I didn’t get it. So I started saving money to be able to live a year without working.  After Christmas last year I took the final decision to go on a sabbatical. I had done the math and realized that after summer 2018 I would have the money to take at least a year off. I told my boss in January that I would like to take a leave of absence to study. Why study, you might wonder. If you take a leave of absence for studying your workplace can’t refuse the leave and you will not get thrown out of the social security system.  And as a so called responsible adult that is not something you wan’t to happen. My boss was not that happy about my decision or the year away. He thought I should postpone my sabbatical to the beginning of 2019 so that I would get more traction at work and take 5 months off. I didn’t like the suggestion so I stick to original plan. I applied for 3 courses at university and got accepted.

My trip started with the Transmongolian railway from Moscow to Beijing with stops at Irkutsk in Russian and Terelj nationalpark and Ulanbataar in Mongolia. I might get back to that part of the trip or maybe not. I made it with a friend of mine in a more middleclass way with first class cabins on the train from Moscow to Irkutsk and nice 3 or 4 star hotels. My friend left today and I left my fourstar hotel in Beijing and checked in to a hostel.